Section 144 imposed in Central Delhi during anti-corruption protests by Kejriwal and team

A court in New Delhi on Saturday directed the Delhi Police to furnish all information on what necessitated imposition of prohibitory orders in a case in which Arvind Kejriwal and his supporters were charge-sheeted for allegedly rioting in Central Delhi on August 26 last year during protests against “corruption” in coal block allocation.

While ordering further investigation in the case, Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja said that in the recent past the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court had been critical of misuse of power by the Delhi Police under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code which forbids unlawful assembly.

In its judgment in the Ramlila Maidan midnight crackdown incident involving Baba Ramdev’s supporters, the Supreme Court had said that Section 144 must be invoked only in emergency situations having grave consequences. In a May 2011 order, the Delhi High Court had criticised the Delhi Police for “passing of repetitive orders” under Section 144 and had disposed of the writ petition after the police submitted in an affidavit that the “repeated use of power under Section 144 CrPC has been discontinued in the New Delhi district”. Mr. Thareja said the views expressed by the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court made it imperative for the State to explain the circumstances under which ACP Bhoop Singh passed the order imposing Section 144 CrPC on August 6, 2012, and to disclose if this was part of a series of repetitive orders. The Court also asked the Investigating Officer to ascertain the circumstances and the reports ACP Bhoop Singh reviewed, which necessitated passing of the August 6 order.

While the prosecution had argued that at the stage of framing of charge it was sufficient for the Court to be satisfied that ACP Bhoop Singh’s order was present on the Court record, defence counsel Somnath Bharti argued that it was unfair that the State was withholding the information on the basis of which Mr. Singh passed the order.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, an accused in the case, had argued that keeping Section 144 CrPC imposed over Central Delhi for a long period was a violation of the citizens’ fundamental right to protest in a democracy.

Further, the Delhi Police were asked to submit video-graphic evidence they had in their possession and also obtain video footage available with TV news channel reporters who had covered the protests. The defence had argued that this would help the Court establish prima facie the veracity of the charges that the Delhi Police wanted framed on the accused.

In his order, Mr. Thareja said the facts stated in the police charge-sheet “encapsulate an interesting interplay between the duty of the State to maintain law and order and the right of the citizens to move freely within the territory of India and their rights to express themselves by protesting against the Government”.

More In: Delhi